I wrote this about a week ago, in the midst of our packing:
I have just gotten Elvie to stop crying and go to sleep and am sitting for a couple of minutes in the silence. It is late for the boys–usually they are up by this time–but they must be especially tired to be sleeping late. And as if on cue, that thought is followed by the appearance of Ephraim, bleary-eyed and bed-headed, dragging his blanket over to where I sit. We exchange our good mornings, huge and kisses; he goes back out, and Clive comes in for the same morning treatment. After he wanders towards the bathroom, I get up to get Anselm out of his crib, where I can already hear him protesting his brothers’ absence.
When everyone is changed, dressed, hugged and with teeth brushed, we head downstairs for breakfast, a chatty row of ducklings still clutching their favorite blankets and talking about oatmeal. We eat–I’m last because I’m waiting for my coffee to finish–and one by one they ask to be excused and trot off upstairs. Once they are all squared away with toys and a show so I can focus on another day of packing, I hear Elvie begin crying from the other room.
Some days are just like this. Not every day–yesterday wasn’t–but some days I seem to bounce from child to child to child to child, kindergartener to preschooler to toddler to infant, in a sweet and essential cycle of hugs and kisses and meals and ouchies and nursings and what’s this? and where’s that? and sorries and forgivings and several other words I could also make up right this moment. There’s no exasperation in days like this (well, except for when Elvie is inconsolable for no apparent reason) but it certainly feels very busy.
Busy is a word I will willingly use for our lives. It is a very true word; it has synonyms like immersed and engaged and working and occupied. There are many words I will not use to describe how our house and family operates–I loathe using chaos to describe my life as it’s simply untrue–but all in that list are, I think, quite accurate, and not necessarily negative.
I have been pondering deeply the concept of slow living for the past few weeks. It has taken a lot of thought because I’m trying to figure out exactly what it means. What is slowing down, exactly? What does that look like for a mother of four children five-and-under? Does it mean eating breakfast on the floor and taking a picture of it for Instagram? Does it mean actually letting things happen slowly? Does it look like taking frequent breaks, frequent picnics, frequent bright and airy photos of our picnic breaks?
I’m being mostly facetious, but I have been confused by the concept because I think it goes hand in hand with something that is the opposite of slow: busyness. Or, more accurately, diligence–careful and persisent work–which has synonyms like concentration, effort, and rigor.
Slow Living may be the rejection of fast in our most modern sense, fast food, fast money, fast track, but the opposite of those things is a process that is slower but also more labor intensive. In other words, slow living is rejecting the worst kind of busy for the best kind of busy, I’m thinking.
I can remember being at my grandmother’s house in the afternoons. Right after lunch there was a respite, usually for crossword puzzles and Rush Limbaugh. But around three p.m. Grandma would get up and go to the kitchen and start preparing dinner. And as a child (and even as a teenager) I never could figure out why she started on dinner so early. We wouldn’t be eating until at least three hours later!
Then last year when I was examining my expectations I took the time to ask my Nana how she managed to have such an elaborate lunch made for us every Sunday when she spent the whole morning at church. Every Sunday we’d go over there and eat things like ham, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, and homemade sourdough rolls that were fresh out of the oven just before it was time to eat. I didn’t remember having to sit around and wait until everything was cooked, so how did she do it? Her answer was so obvious it was painful that I was blind to it: she did what she could the night before, and then did the rest early in the morning.
To my somewhat self-centered Millennial mind that is unthinkable. Meal prep on a Saturday night? Isn’t that time set aside for Netflix? (Okay, there wasn’t Netflix back then, but you know.) If I did that, I would have to wait until I put the kids to bed. And that would mean I wouldn’t be able to, well, do whatever I wanted to. Because I’m exhausted by the time evening rolls around and I usually go to bed pretty early. What about self-care? What about me-time?
The diligence of my grandmothers meant more time for moments spent in community with the people they loved. Days there were, I think, slow living at its best–but it was usually pulled off by the sacrifice and persistent hard work of someone behind the scenes. Someone who was kept very busy.
Busyness gets a horribly bad rap these days. And I do think there is a terrible kind of busy that obsesses over the superfluous and wallows in mediocrity; as a result it is frazzled and short-tempered from the stress of unmet expectations. But there is a busyness that is necessary for life to be meaningful and full of meaning (are the terms the same? I’m not sure they are). It is diligence that makes space for the soul to truly breathe, I think.
What do you think falls in the category of arbitrary busy versus meaningful busy? Is there a difference? And is there a difference between “meaningful” and “full of meaning”? I’m still mulling that one over.